Wolves Get the Same Ol’ Andrei Kirilenko
It was just a couple of years ago when the Minnesota Timberwolves were considered a young team comprised of green prospects playing for an inexperienced coach. However, since the team hired Rick Adelman and saw Kevin Love come into his own, the identity of the roster has underwent a monumental shift. Signing veteran free agents Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko, neither of whom played in the NBA last year but both of whom have pretty decorated careers behind them, took that transformation a step further.
While expectations for Roy are relatively tempered considering he retired for medical reasons just over a year ago, Kirilenko is expected to be the same great player we saw for a decade in Utah. Kirilenko himself thinks those expectations are more than reasonable.
“I don’t think my game has changed much, but I think I’ve starting doing some things differently,” Kirilenko told HOOPSWORLD. “When you’re young, you can just run over everything and don’t have to worry about what’s going on. But as you get older, you start thinking a little bit more.”
And that, he says, is the biggest change in a player’s game as he matures.
“I definitely don’t slow down,” Kirilenko said. “I try to stay the way I was before — an energetic game, kind of trying to be everywhere. But I’m trying not to rush sometimes, because I had a tendency when I was young to rush things, trying to do something quick. I just need to stop myself and analyze the best position and try to use it.”
Kirilenko spent last year’s lockout-shortened season playing for CSKA Moscow in Russia — the same team he played for when the Jazz drafted him with the No. 24 pick back in 1999. He dominated Euroleague in his year away from the NBA, winning the Euroleague MVP award and proving he’s still got a whole lot of gas left in the tank. Now, he’s looking for a fresh start in Minnesota.
“I spent ten years with the Jazz and the rest of my career I’ve spent in Russia, so this is only my second NBA team,” Kirilenko said. “I like the atmosphere in the locker room. Everybody is on the same page, lot of Europeans and international players so it kind of gives [the team] a different flavor with people speaking different languages.”
But it wasn’t a multicultural locker room that drew him to the Wolves.
“I looked at [free agency] from many different perspectives,” Kirilenko explained. “I’m not just looking at one thing. Here, I found that all the pieces fit together. The contract is great, don’t get me wrong, but the team has made a big improvement from last year, and you know it’s a team on the way up, not on the way down or stuck. They’re growing up.
“They have Kevin Love, who has really improved over the last couple of years and has become a superstar. You really look at the core of the guys on this team and Rick [Adelman] has always been known as a really good coach for the players. I remember him with Sacramento way, way back and [his teams] always play a very interesting game, a lot of motion, a lot of running, a lot of passes, not selfish basketball, and I like that.”
Brooklyn, he said, was hardly even an afterthought, despite rampant rumors that he’d sign there because of some sort of national kinship with the franchise’s owner, Mikhail Prokhorov. Those were merely media assumptions, Kirilenko explains, and he’s obviously quite happy with the way things turned out.
Of course, with Love out for another five-to-six weeks and Ricky Rubio on the mend until right around the winter solstice, a lot will fall on Kirilenko in terms of holding down the fort while the team’s two biggest starts get healthy.
“We have a lot of guys who are very capable of playing the four position, three position,” Kirilenko said, “but if coach wants me to play four, I’ll play four. It’s not really an issue. I think the issue for us is sticking together and starting the season strong. It doesn’t really matter if Kevin is out. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a huge part of the team and we want him healthy, but there’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves, feel down. We have a good team anyways, so we just have to build on that and keep getting better.”
Underneath all the bumps and bruises (and tears and breaks), there really is a pretty good team here in Minnesota, and Kirilenko is a major part of that. He’ll need to be very productive to ensure the Wolves don’t fall into a terrible hole to start the season, but if anybody on this roster can do it, it’s him and Roy.
The Timberwolves have a long way to go, but they’re much further along now than they were two years ago. The tides are turning in the Twin Cities, which is exactly why Kirilenko chose to resume his career here.